Hot Summer Fishing

Dam Fishing During Dog Days

Topwater lures can trick bass below dams during the dog days of summer.
Topwater lures can trick bass below dams during the dog days of summer.

The dog days of summer are fun times for water skiing and swimming at your favorite reservoir.

However, bass fishing can be frustrating when the dog day heat drives bass into deep water on your favorite impoundment. You must dodge water skiers and pleasure boaters buzzing around the offshore structure you are trying to fish.

When he encounters this dog days dilemma, Alfred Chapman of Lake Ozark Fishing Guide Service avoids the crowds by taking his clients below Lake of the Ozarks’ Bagnell Dam to the Osage River, where the waters are calmer and cooler, and the bass are shallower. He believes the fishing is better on the river for several reasons. “A lot of it has to do with water temperature,” Chapman says. “The water coming out of the dam is probably about 10 degrees cooler than what’s up on the surface, and that helps. The current also keeps the fish a little shallower than the fish on the lake. “

The waters below the dam receive heavy fishing pressure, especially on the weekends, but Chapman also avoids these crowds by running his jet-driven bass boat farther away from the dam. “The thing about the river is if you don’t have a jet boat, you can’t go real far,” Chapman says. During low flow periods, shallow gravel bars throughout the river make it treacherous for standard propeller-driven bass boats to venture far from the dam area.

Chapman proved to me how river fishing was better than lake fishing during an August trip below the dam. I had been struggling to catch bass on the lake with water temperatures in the mid to upper 80s, but the water temperature on the river during our trip was 78 degrees. We started at daylight and caught some keeper spotted bass and sub-legal largemouth bass on a Zara Spook and a Berkley Drift Walker 110 along a gravel bar.

When the sun rose above the hills, Chapman ran downriver to some shady banks, where we continued to catch bass on the topwater baits. We kept fishing the topwater baits even after we lost our shady banks and continued to catch bass on the surface in areas where a slight current flowed over sunken logs. Chapman had a bass smash his Zara Spook and broke his line. He eventually caught a 3 1/2-pound largemouth on a Spook, and I caught a 2-pound spotted bass on a black Strike King KVD Sexy Dawg Jr. topwater plug. We fished until about noon and probably caught and released more than 20 spotted and largemouth bass.

Guide Alfred Chapman takes his clients below Lake of the Ozarks’ Bagnell Dam to catch spotted and largemouth bass during the dog days of summer.
Guide Alfred Chapman takes his clients below Lake of the Ozarks’ Bagnell Dam to catch spotted and largemouth bass during the dog days of summer.

“If they are biting on topwater, I like the earliest I can get on the river and see where I am running,” Chapman says. After the sun rises above the hills, Chapman “plays the light” by running to shady river areas until the shade disappears, and then he resorts to fishing logs in deeper water.

The Missouri guide’s favorite dog days topwater lures for the river include Zara Spooks, buzzbaits, Whopper Ploppers, and Pop-R’s that he retrieves at a moderate to slow pace. The type of topwater he throws at any time depends on the fish's mood. If bass are lethargic but still feeding some on the surface, Chapman favors topwaters he can work slowly, such as a Pop-R or Zara Spook. For the most aggressive bass, Chapman opts for a Whopper Plopper or buzzbait he can buzz across the surface.

When bass ignore his topwater offerings, Chapman coaxes these inactive fish with a Ned rig featuring a Strike King Rage Tail Ned Craw. He will also flip jigs and Texas-rigged 6- or 8-inch plastic worms to logs and rocks or work the lures along gravel shoals.

Chapman prefers some water being released from the dam for fishing during the dog days, but not a heavy flow. “I like it as low as it will go, which is about 1,000 to 1,500 cubic feet per second out of the dam,” he says.

The water flow dictates where Chapman fishes on the river each day. “The warmer it gets, the more oxygen and cooler the water bass want, so the faster water is usually better to fish,” he says. The guide targets any kind of current break he can find and positions his boat on the edge of the current. Then he casts to the back of the current breaks and retrieves his lures through the slack water out to the faster water to determine where the fish are positioned.

Once he catches a couple of bass from the same area of the current break, Chapman develops a pattern he can run throughout the river. “Usually, the bass are right on that current break,” he says.

If the dam releases a heavy flow, Chapman will duck into tributary creeks to avoid the strong current on the river. His favorite lures for fishing the creeks are jigs, Carolina- or Texas-rigged soft plastics, spinnerbaits and square bill crankbaits.

Another bonus of fishing below the dam is bass remain in shallower water throughout the dog days of summer. Although the Osage River has some holes 25 to 30 feet deep, Chapman catches bass throughout the summer, mainly in spots less than 15 feet deep.

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